I wanted her to experience life outdoors and unplugged (no computers, cell phones or iPods allowed). I wanted her to develop female friendships without boys around. I wanted her to gain the kind of confidence and independence that can only come from doing things that scare you a little bit and doing them without the presence of your parents. And I especially wanted her to experience profound silliness.
The first year Annie came back from camp, she was 10. She returned with a new confidence in herself -- one that was not ruffled by the cliques at school. But the thing I remember most was an early rainstorm in which she slid open the back door to stand in the downpour and started crooning "Singing in the Rain" while dancing on our back porch. I knew, as only a mother can, that that spontaneous outburst was a result of camp. I have the complete joy of that moment frozen in my brain.
Sleepaway camp is expensive, and I'm sure Suze Orman would tell me I can't afford it. But I don't think you can put a price tag on your daughter's confidence or happiness. Three summers ago, her younger sister joined her. Annie later proclaimed it her favorite summer, and when I asked why, she said, "My sister." I am sure that being away from us parents gave the girls a chance to truly appreciate each other. My daughters are counting down the days until camp right now, and last night I asked Annie what she loved about it. "No boys, no phones, no distractions," she said. "I get to experience life!"